By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008
The State Department said yesterday that it would renew its contract with Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security contractor, to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad for another year, but said it could cancel it at any time.
Blackwater has a five-year contract with the State Department to provide diplomatic security. The contract, which has one base year plus four option years, is entering its fourth year, an official at the State Department said.
The company, based in Moyock, N.C., is under investigation by the FBI in connection with a Sept. 16 incident in which its security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Questions have been raised about whether the shootings were justified and if they violated the rules under which contractors may use deadly force in Iraq.
Blackwater has received more than $1 billion in federal business since 2000, according to Eagle Eye, a research company that monitors contract spending. Its agreement to provide security for U.S. diplomats, and bodyguards and armed drivers to escort government officials outside Baghdad's Green Zone, was set to expire next month.
Gregory B. Starr, the acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said the pending investigation could change the deal with Blackwater.
"We can terminate contracts for the convenience of the government if we have to," he said. "If that was the decision, we could terminate the contract. The results of that will come, and then we will make a decision of how to proceed."
Iraqi officials have called for the ouster of Blackwater. The State and Defense departments have put in place more stringent oversight of private security contractors, such as coordinating their movement with the military and making sure they know the rules of engagement, an official with the State Department said.